Chapter Seventeen

It may have only been a few hours, but when Rodney finally managed to fight off the lethargy from Dr. Frasier's magical drug cocktail, it had felt like a week had passed. Either way, while it was all still very hazy, he could clearly recognize the familiar trappings of a military infirmary. Probably somewhere on Davis-Monathan, if Frasier's quiet presence on the far side of the room was any indicator.

A distant ache in his shoulder reminded him that he had come out on the wrong end of a knife fight, and he couldn't suppress the groan that escaped him.

"Hey, Sleeping Beauty," a voice called from a few feet over.

Rodney lolled his head to the side to see John reading a golfing magazine on a nearby cot. He was sprawled across the hard infirmary bed as if he were lounging on a pile of feathers, stretching out the one leg swathed in bandages and flicking the pages with his lightly wrapped hands. "Sheppard?"

"Back to last names are we?"

"What?" Rodney frowned. "I don't understand—"

"S'all right." John set the magazine down. "You've been out of it for a while. Frasier gave you some strong stuff."

"I'll say." Rodney rubbed at his eyes, which felt gritty and grimy from too much sleep. "How long has it been?"

"Well, it's early afternoon now. You missed Jell-o and—something I couldn't identify."

The thought of food really wasn't that appealing. "I'll pass."

"Yeah, we'll see what Carson says about that."

"Carson? Carson's here?"

"Of course he is." John gave him a long look. "You sent him to fetch the cavalry. Remember?"

"Oh." Rodney dropped his gaze to where he was nervously fingering the sheets. "I kind of had other things on my mind."

"Yeah," John's voice dropped to a whisper as he flicked his gaze back to the magazine. "How you feeling?"

"I should be asking you that," Rodney replied, his own sight settling on a nice neutral empty cot on the far side of the room.

"I didn't get stabbed." There was a baffling amount of recrimination in that statement.

"You got shot... zat'ni'kateled... whatever. More than once."

"Just tingles a little, that's all. Nothing painful and agonizing like having a knife buried in your shoulder."

"It will heal—and how did you hurt your hands?"

"Perhaps I bloodied my knuckles a little—because someone stabbed you with a knife!"

"Well, what about your leg?"

"What about it?"

"Do you just wear bandages for fun?" Rodney shot back.

"Hey," John protested, "the mummy look is all the rage."

"Uh huh, and it has nothing to do with your own little knife wound."

"Again, deep stab wound that miraculously didn't sever any arteries."

"I had one injury, yes, I get your point!"

"No, you don't—"

"For the love of god," Carson's thick brogue cut in as the Scot strode into the infirmary, "please tell me that you are not seriously arguing about who is hurt worse."

"He is!" They both chimed, pointing at each other. "Am not!"

"Lord," Carson muttered as he rubbed his temples, "what did I ever do to deserve you two?"

"You should know better than to feed the wild animals, Carson," Rodney harrumphed. "They always come back for seconds."

"Aye, I'll keep that in mind in the future," he retorted before striding over to Rodney's cot and swatting him on the side of the head.

"Ow!" He rubbed the stinging spot. "What the hell was that for?"

"For not calling—I think you took ten years off my life, you git."

"I was busy trying to outwit my pursuers—"

"Actually," John piped up, "that was me. You mostly just screamed like a little girl."

"You drove into oncoming traffic!"

"What?" Carson's eyes slid over to John, narrowing dangerously.

"It was for a good cause," he protested.

"I thought..." An unnaturally disturbed look settled on Carson's features and he glared darkly at the floor for a moment. "I have never been so glad to be wrong in my life."

Rodney flicked a glance in John's direction, but he had a similar dark expression. "What?"

"You lost quite a bit of blood," Carson said clinically. "It wasn't pretty."

"Unless you're Anne Rice I don't think blood is ever pretty to anyone."

"No, it's not," Carson agreed and crossed his arms as he looked sternly from Rodney, then to John. "Janet's been kind enough to keep me apprised of your conditions."

"Has she now?" John asked lightly.

"She also tells me that someone keeps trying to walk on his injured leg before the wound has had proper time to heal."

"Lies," John insisted.

"Mm hmm." Carson didn't sound so convinced. "Something about making daring infirmary escapes to harass the senior officers on base."

"You've been what?" Rodney snapped.

"Semantics." John waved a hand. "I was just attempting casual conversation about their information gathering policies."

"Sheppard," Rodney warned, "I have to work with these people—"

"They shouldn't have put you in there, McKay," he shot back hotly. "You aren't trained for that kind of thing."

"Excuse me, but I think I did remarkably well considering the circumstances."

"You were in over your head."

"In hindsight, yes, that's obvious!" His shoulder twinged with the sudden movement and he couldn't suppress a grimace. "Painfully obvious."

John's righteous outrage simmered to a glowering concern. A light rap at the door announced the arrival of someone else into the conversation and Rodney unconsciously tensed, waiting for the onomatopoeia to follow.

"I hope I'm not interrupting," Lorne stood ramrod straight in the doorway, dressed in his base uniform and looking all the part of the good soldier, "but I thought Dr. McKay might want an update now that's he's awake."

"Might as well," Rodney said sourly and tried to push himself into a sitting position. Carson's hand on his uninjured shoulder stopped him, before carefully helping him prop up.

"Thanks," he said softly.

"Aye."

John was giving Lorne the stink eye, and his crossed arms were a clear indicator that he was not receptive to the major's presence. Rodney rolled his eyes and shifted so that he could face Lorne easier.

"So, I'm guessing you got the pictures."

"Yes," Lorne said, "although they didn't make much sense without an explanation."

"Sorry about that."

"Eh," Lorne shrugged noncommittally, "Carter was able to piece together a rough idea of what it meant. We were already en route by that time."

"Without evidence?" Rodney was baffled.

"I told you I'd get you out." Lorne met his gaze evenly. "I don't go back on my word."

Out of the corner of his eye, Rodney could see John give a small nod. Whether it was out of approval or recrimination, Rodney couldn't tell, and he didn't feel like asking. He swallowed, the action reminding him he hadn't had anything to drink in several hours. Water could wait, though. "What about the..."

He trailed off, looking at both Carson and John, before back at Lorne questioningly.

"It's fine. Dr. Beckett's already signed his NDA, and Sheppard's will be coming in as soon as Hammond's ears stop ringing."

"Sheppard," Rodney hissed.

"Hey," the pilot held his hands up in defense, "he introduced himself to me."

"Do you just take pride in pissing off people in power?" Rodney asked testily.

"I do when they've got it coming."

Lorne shook his head minutely. "Thankfully it's a weekend, so we've been able to secure the building for the time being. Carter's working on cracking their network security so we can get at the ring... thing."

"Stargate," Rodney corrected. "It's called a Stargate."

"Ah, good to know." Lorne nodded succinctly. "Sheppard briefed us on what he knew, but you'll need to meet with Major Carter and fill in the gaps."

"Of course," Rodney returned tightly. He was so looking forward to that—especially considering Sam's, uh, uniquely qualified opinion of him. Although knowing her, she'd probably crack the code and navigate through the abandoned corridors without any help from him and—wait...

"Um," Rodney blinked, "there's something you should probably know."

"And that is?"

"They have an alien in their basement."

"A what now?" Carson asked.

"Well, they claim he's an alien, but he looks like a normal enough guy to me."

"I'm guessing you're talking about our mutual friend from the lockdown incident," John quipped.

"The one and the same."

"Aha!"

"Yes, yes, you were right. Very screwy. I already told you this."

"I like hearing it," John said smugly.

"We'll look into it," Lorne assured him and looked up at Frasier's approach.

"Major, I hope you're not bothering my patients."

"We're fine," Rodney groused. "And no more drugs—I need to be able to think."

"I'll be the judge of that," she gave him a warm smile and turned back to Lorne. "Five minutes, and no more. They both need their rest."

"Well, I don't know about Rodney, but I'm feeling just dandy—"

"Hey!"

"I've got backup now, John, so I wouldn't try me if I were you." Frasier and Carson exchanged a knowing look. Oh goody, while Rodney had been asleep the medical world had acquired its own set of Wonder Twins.

"Yes ma'am," John agreed simply, but when her back was turned he mouthed at Carson. "Traitor."

"I saw that," she said without breaking her stride in checking Rodney's vitals.

She was sneaky, Rodney had to give her that. So sneaky in fact, that he hardly noticed when something was inserted into his IV line, or that the conversation started to fade and his eyes began to droop from a sudden lethargy.

He awoke back in the dead of night. Sheppard was still propped up on the cot, although he had managed to somehow acquire a Nintendo-Gameboy-thing during Rodney's forced slumber.

"She drugged me," Rodney accused to the room in general, "again."

"Appears that way, yeah."

"I was behaving myself," Rodney defended. "If anyone should be drugged to the gills it should be you."

"I am behaving." John wiggled his Gameboy as he mashed the buttons furiously. "You were out before Lorne finished telling us what happened to Marrick."

"Oh?" Rodney's throat was still dry, which really sucked because there didn't seem to be any nurses around he could beg a cup of water from. And there was no way he was going to risk the combined doctorly wrath of Beckett and Frasier and ask John to get up on his bum leg.

"Well, I know you'll be pleased to hear he's going to make it." There was a flicker of an angry shadow that crossed John's face as he shut the Gameboy, but it was gone so quickly Rodney could have just imagined it. "He and the rest of the goon squad are being held for the moment."

"Sensible."

"It also sounds like they're going to try and round up everyone who worked downstairs."

"Cover up."

"Aliens," John reminded.

"Well, yes, I guess that might be an issue of national security."

"And your General Asshat—"

"Aisley," Rodney corrected without thinking.

"I'm going to stick with Asshat," John said darkly, "since according to Lorne he was the one who set you up for that thing in your lab."

"He... did?"

"Yes," John ground out. "Lorne didn't say much after he realized you were out of it, but it seems the guy skipped the country right about the time we had our fun little motorcycle ride."

"I don't understand."

"He was the inside guy—on Vertrauen's payroll."

"But why me?"

"Apparently they were pretty desperate to pull you into their grasp." There was a hard quality to John's tone. "They're still out there, you know. They had a lot of money and a lot of power. That's not just going to go away because their cool toy got taken away."

"I didn't think about that."

"And you've really pissed them off," John continued. "You're probably at the top of their hit list. You're lucky you've got Hammond on your side."

"You've changed your tune," Rodney said softly.

"Not really," John muttered and flicked his Gameboy back open, "but I'm getting a clearer picture of what happened. They still shouldn't have sent you in there without someone watching your back. A pre-arranged meeting once a week doesn't cut it in my book."

"I wasn't alone."

"What?"

Rodney squirmed uncomfortably, finding that same far point on the wall to stare at. "There was, you know... you."

John cleared his throat, and without hesitation resumed his button mashing. The whole male bonding thing never seemed to work out too well, but sometimes talking around something wasn't enough. Sometimes, Rodney just wanted to actually say what he was thinking.

"I'm hungry." Well, that wasn't what he had meant to say. Small steps, he decided.

The fingers stilled momentarily, and it took several beats for John to answer. "You missed dinner. Still unidentifiable, but with blue Jell-o this time."

"Oh," Rodney said softly, "I like blue."

"Huh," and the gaming resumed.

"You're not really playing that game are you?"

"Yes, I am."

"I don't hear any sound effects."

"I have the volume turned down."

"Sheppard." That didn't work, because Super Mario Whatever was more fascinating at the moment. Maybe it was the drugs loosening his inhibitions or something, but he decided to keep pushing. "John?"

The button mashing stilled.

"Are we..." He sucked in a deep breath, not sure if he'd like the answer he was going to get. "We're good, aren't we?"

"Of course." The exasperation in the tone convinced Rodney more than the actual words. "Why are you bringing this up?"

"Because you're..."

"I'm fine, Rodney," John insisted, gaze settling somewhere at a far point in the infirmary. "It was about time I was moving on anyway."

"Moving, wait—you're leaving?"

"Yeah, I'm kind of out of a job." John tried to sound nonchalant about it, but Rodney could hear... something underneath the light tone. "You know, seeing as how I'm pretty sure the company isn't really going to exist for much longer. Might as well cut my losses."

Oh.

Oh.

"God... I'm sorry."

"That's all right," John shrugged. "I was totally planning on quitting after the whole zatting incident. Hostile working environment and all, you know?"

Everyone was going to be out of a job. John, Carson, Grodin, the smelly Czech guy, perfume HR girl and poor, depressed Minnows in accounting... and maybe it wasn't all Rodney's fault, but he certainly had played a key role. Not that he thought a private, money-grubbing corporation needed control of something as powerful as that Stargate, but still. If the whole company went down, a lot of people would be suddenly unemployed. It would affect the American economy, especially if there was some snafu with the 401K's like...

"Oh god, it's like Enron... with Stargates."

"Uh, sure."

"Does that make it Gateron?"

"I think the Doc needs to dial your happy juice back a bit," John stated carefully.

"Probably so," Rodney muttered, holding his face in his hands. "It's nice being numb, though."

"I bet," John indicated his IV-less arm. "Just pills for me."

"An IV would keep you leashed."

"Nothing could do that."

That... was true.

"I didn't even think about you..."

"Don't worry about me," John responded tightly. "It wasn't going to last forever anyway."

Rodney could only nod. This whole thing had never meant to be permanent—he hadn't wanted it to be. He just hadn't realized that he might be losing something in the process of getting his life back.

"You'll get back your lab now, won't you?"

Rodney picked at the thread lining the stiff infirmary sheets. "Yeah, probably so."

"Then it's happy endings all around, right?" As nice and comforting as the words were meant to sound, Rodney wasn't so sure they were completely true.

"Right," he agreed softly, the gears slowly starting to turn in his drug numbed mind.


John had never been particularly good at saying goodbye. People would start by getting emotional and want to talk about their feelings, then they'd start crying, and before you knew it they would start hugging. Once that started, John would just about crawl out of his skin to get out of the situation.

That was probably one of the reasons that as soon as he could get a phrase close to "I can release you but..." from Doc Frasier, he was out of Davis-Monathan and on the road. Of course, he had to be careful to not pull the stitches in his still healing calf or he'd probably risk the Wrath of the Beckett upon his return, but it was worth the risk. The open highways had been calling him with every moment he had been stuck in that darkened infirmary and forced to watch uniforms parade in front of him.

Technically, they were there to see Rodney to get briefed on this, that, and the other, but even a year later it was still too soon. The constant reminder dug in as deep as Marrick's knife and twisted just as harshly. Hammond wasn't actually that bad of a guy, and didn't seem to hold John's initial outburst against him. In fact, they were all pretty decent people, and for some reason that just infuriated John more.

So he had to leave. Maybe it wasn't exactly fair to Rodney that he slipped out during one of the update meetings with Major Carter, but like he said before... John sucked at goodbyes.

He flew down the desert highways, riding them up to Route-66 and across the state line through the white sands of New Mexico where he decided to head south. Somewhere after passing a road marker for Las Cruces he realized that the wind was only whipping at his face, the engine was only rumbling beneath him, and that even though he was flying down the highway he would never actually leave the ground.

No matter how hard he looked, there was no solace to be found in the solitude of the road. He screeched to a halt right before the two exits to I-10. East led down to the Rio Grande, Texas, and beyond. He could see a green expanse lining the highway, the oasis-like image beckoning him to continue his search. It made sense, because the only thing west of him was the scorching Arizona sun and the barren desert expanse.

Really, it was only logical to continue on forward.

And that was why John headed west, back to where he started from.


The engine idled as he pulled into a space next to his usual parking spot, as someone had decided to leave an idling moving van in his favorite space. He had to smother his annoyance as he took off his helmet, feeling the cool winter air touch his skin. It figured; he took off for a few days, and someone was trying to muscle into his carefully picked parking spot.

"No, no, you idiots, I told you, keep that upright!"

John's gaze snapped up to the third floor of the building in front of him to see an irate figure berating the moving men trying to balance a ridiculously oversized box between them. Of course, Rodney's usual vibrant gestures were hampered by the sling trying to hold his shoulder in place. However, it did not keep him from micromanaging the moving job all the way down the stairs.

"And make sure it's in the back corner of the van, because I..." The last order died on his lips as he caught sight of John. "You're back."

"Yeah," he fidgeted, "thought I'd step out for some air."

"For four days?"

"I needed a lot of air."

"I get that." Rodney tucked his good arm behind his back for a few moments, before trying to jam it into his pants pocket, until finally choosing to let it dangle. Apparently even his nervous fidgeting was constricted by the presence of the sling. "Frasier and Carson are two peas in a pod. It's, uh, a little stifling with two of them hovering."

"Yeah, I didn't want to stick around to see if she had a vein like Carson's."

"Not that I can tell," Rodney hummed, "but then again I'm a model patient, unlike some people."

The banter was easy and inviting, a procrastination tactic that John was well-versed in when he wanted to put off a difficult conversation. The grumbling movers slinked past and headed back up the stairs for more of Rodney's possessions, their presence highlighting the fact that there really wasn't much time left before the inevitable farewell.

With Rodney standing right in front of him, it would be pretty obvious if he slinked off this time. The only real course of action was to stop putting it off. "You're moving."

"Yeah." Rodney swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing with the movement. "I got my new assignment."

"Not another undercover op?"

"Oh, god no!" Rodney chuckled harshly. "Never again."

"Good," John said, "because James Bond you are not."

"What about Maxwell Smart?"

John cocked his head to the side as he considered the resemblance. "Maybe."

"That would make you Ninety-Nine," Rodney grinned.

Ouch. He should have seen that coming. He nodded an acknowledgment to the worthy sting and focused his attention on pulling his riding gloves off in one tug. The rough movement chaffed at his sore knuckles, but that was all right. The physical discomfort helped distract him.

"So," he asked, rubbing his knuckles earnestly, "where are you headed?"

"Colorado."

"What's there?"

"Cheyenne Mountain," Rodney explained as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

John's forehead crinkled as he recalled the mountain base and gave McKay an askew look. "You're going to work for NORAD?" he asked skeptically. "Isn't that... kind of beneath you?"

"Beneath NORAD is more like it." Out came the grin again, unabashedly happy.

"What?"

"Well, the Air Force is still trying to figure out how to get the Stargate out of Vertrauen's basement. It looks like they sealed it in there whenever they renovated the old structure. It's looking like they may have to take down the whole thing."

John whistled. "They don't mess around."

"Not when it comes to intergalactic travel it seems, no. They're working on modifications to the Mountain so it'll fit."

"Don't tell me..."

"Yep," Rodney practically rocked back on his heels with restrained glee, "they're going to start an exploration program of their own."

"Really?"

"Yeah, and it gets better."

"How?"

"Guess who they've decided to put in charge of studying the Stargate?"

"Carter."

"Well," Rodney grimaced, "yes, if you want to get technical about it. But I'll be right up there too—just imagine the papers that I'll write that no one will get to read. I mean, all the theoretical physics might not be theoretical anymore. If stable, artificially created wormholes are possible, what else is? Well, I mean within the realm of physics. Certain rules still apply."

"That's great, Rodney." John's enthusiasm wasn't completely forced. He really was happy that Rodney was getting his life back and from the looks of it, improving on it even more. "Really, congratulations."

"And you remember the guy—well, of course you do, hard to forget—but they managed to get him out. He was, um, a little angry still. Maybe if someone can talk to him, he might tell us what's waiting out there in the galaxy."

"And how do they think they're going to do that?"

"Well, they're looking for the archaeologist—Jocksey? Jayson? Jackson? Whatever—the guy who did the original translations for the Stargate. He's supposed to be some sort of linguistic prodigy."

"They're bringing in an archaeologist?" John asked skeptically.

"Yes," Rodney grimaced, "not exactly a science, but what can you do? They need a lot of brainpower for this undertaking so they're pulling a lot of people in."

"Is that so?"

"Yeah. They've got Zelenka, Grodin, Kusanagi... they've even offered Carson a spot."

"Really?" This time, the smile was completely forced. Four days on the road and John had come to accept that Rodney would be gone after the whole mess cleared up—but he hadn't realized that Carson might not stick around either. It shouldn't have mattered because not even four months ago neither of them had been an issue. "That's... great."

"You don't sound happy." Rodney's smile dimmed, and John could have kicked himself for stepping on the good news.

"No, I am—"

"Look, I can explain," Rodney cut him off quickly, a hangdog expression of guilt flashing across his face.

It was so abrupt and out of place with the rest of the conversation, John couldn't help but feel his suspicions rise. "About what?"

"About the—wait. You haven't had your phone with you, have you?"

"No," he drew the word out into three syllables. "I really didn't think there was a need."

"Oh," Rodney said to himself softly. "Then I guess you wouldn't have gotten any calls."

"That was kind of the point of leaving it behind," John groused. "What's so important about my phone all of the sudden?"

"Um, nothing," Rodney looked away, feigning innocence.

"McKay." He forced a little annoyance into the tone, hoping to bring the scientist around to the point quicker. "What is it?"

"It's just that..." Rodney peeked a look at him, still facing the other direction, a small smile quirking at the edge of his lips. "You're coming with us."

Perhaps Rodney was still high on Frasier's happy juice, because that didn't make any sense. "What?"

"Well, let's just say that the Air Force owes me big time for discovering their little alien portal device, almost getting killed in the process, and you know, probably saving the planet from alien invasion and corporate takeovers."

The leaps in logic and conversations weren't doing much to help illuminate matters, but the hesitant grin that settled in place at the end of Rodney's diatribe didn't really muster up a lot of confidence in John. "What did you do?"

"I called in a favor."

The words hit him like a physical blow as Rodney unknowingly echoed his father. With everything that had happened recently between both him and with Rodney, it was hard for John to not let a hint of accusation line his tone. "You called in a favor?"

"All of them actually," Rodney continued on, seemingly oblivious to the dangerous ground he was treading. "I owe Hammond quite a few 'computer repairs' whenever he needs, no questions asked. And the Chief-of-Staff is allowed to pull me in on whatever special side projects he sees fit at a moment's notice, which is slightly alarming but it's probably nothing. Either way, it's okay. I think it's worth it."

"What is worth it?"

"Well, if you bothered to check your voicemail every once in a while I'm sure you'd already know."

"Don't make me hit you—you're not wearing glasses anymore, so it's completely acceptable now."

"You put in for the Reserves," Rodney said quickly, finally picking up on the hard edge in John's voice, "so it was just a simple matter of the right people making the right phone calls and pushing the necessary paperwork through. I mean, I'm sure your old CO's might have a word or two to say, but still it's a done deal. Or it will be. The whole paperwork part takes a little time from my understanding. That's okay, because they won't start going off world for a few months—"

"Rodney," he interrupted the rambling monologue, "what did you do?"

"I got the Air Force to reinstate you." It came out very small and uncertain but it might as well have been shouted because it rang in John's ears like an endless echo. However he didn't respond within the half-second time frame, so Rodney added, "Well, I mean, I didn't, but I just pulled some strings so that those who could, would make it happen."

It was almost like being back on the highway, because the nervous babbling barely registered over the rushing in John's ears.

"What?" he breathed.

"Same rank and everything from what I understand. I mean, I tried to push for Lieutenant Colonel, but apparently that was asking for too much. Stupid 'protocols' and 'appearances'—"

John was glad that he was next to his bike, because he had to take a seat as the world rushed around him and everything faded out of focus for a second.

"What are you—? Oh, god, it wasn't right." Rodney's horrified tone overshadowed the rapid fire words. "You don't want to go back. I thought you did, I mean, it sounded like that's what you were saying way back when and you looked a little lost whenever the brass were in the room and I just thought that since I kind of killed your other job it might be a nice thing to try and get you a new one, and, Jesus, I'm so sorry—"

"No," John whispered, "it's fine."

"Fine?" Rodney's eyes were still impossibly wide, and couldn't seem to decide whether he was contrite or annoyed. "It's just fine?"

"I mean it's okay." It was really hard to let his voice carry, because he wasn't sure he trusted it right now. "More than okay."

"Really?" Rodney's voice dropped to its own deferential whisper. "Because I think I might have taken the choice out of it and pressed you back into military service against your will and that really isn't okay."

Color and detail rushed back in, and John was able to see the utter desolation painted on the other man's face. It was a stark contrast to Patrick Sheppard's sputtering outrage. The smile that thought summoned was maybe a more wistful one than John would have liked.

"I hadn't really been thinking about that at the time," Rodney defended weakly.

"No?"

"I..." he trailed off, unable to hold John's gaze. "It was the only thing I could think of that might even begin to properly thank you for what you did."

"You don't need to thank me." John hadn't done what he'd done for any reason other than it had been the right thing to do—the only thing to do.

"You saved my life—more than once."

And in return, Rodney was trying to give John his back. Suddenly, it was John who was studying the tiny dimples in the pavement. "I didn't do it for... that's not why I did it."

"I know." Rodney swallowed and began to finger the strap on his sling absently, letting his last statement hang in the air for several moments. "But that doesn't mean I appreciate it any less."

The movers came down with another set of ridiculously huge boxes, and they both fell into silence as they watched the interlopers pack the van. In the few minutes it took them to rearrange the items, John shifted his position on his bike to relieve the pressure on his calf. The dull throb began to fade as he stared up into the cloudless midday sky, trying to sort through the conflicted emotions warring within him.

He really would have appreciated a say in the matter about his re-enlistment, but John had a feeling that after disappearing into the desert for a few more days he would have come up with the same answer. A new frontier was about to open up and he'd just been offered a chance to be part of it. He would be able to step onto ground that no one else on Earth had. Not wanting that would be akin to not climbing back into the X-302.

And John really wanted to get back in that glider.

When the movers had shuffled back upstairs, he looked to see Rodney still fidgeting nervously. "So..."

"What?"

"This job thing—is travel to other planets required?"

"Well, that's the point of having a giant ring that goes to other worlds, isn't it?"

"Does it hurt?"

"I don't know. I just saw them activate the stupid thing but there didn't appear to be any painful screams when the Buff Force walked through so I'm assuming—"

"Are you going to do much of that oh-so-scientific assuming when we're off world?"

"We?"

"Of course 'we'. Do you think I'm going to leave you back on base so you can waste your time playing The Sims while I'm out working?"

"Excuse me? I'm not the one who spent so much time with the vending machines that we were on a first name basis."

"That thing had no name, just evil in it."

"I really hope you don't have some sort of technological phobia. That's pretty much not a good thing if we find more, uh, cookies."

"What?"

The movers walked past again, somehow with an even larger box than before.

"Oh," John said. "Probably should talk about this somewhere else."

"Oh, they'll be off again in a second," Rodney waved a hand dismissively. "There's plenty more where that came from."

"What is in those things? Parts for a giant laser gun?"

"No," Rodney grumped, but did not elaborate.

With a barely hidden glower at the person responsible for their schlepping duty, the movers were back up the three flights for probably another ridiculously sized box, and Rodney seemed to deem the conversation safe to resume.

"I'll have to think about it," he said. "Who knows what's out there?"

"Untold scientific breakthroughs, beautiful native women, spaceships—"

"Aliens, weapons, explosions—"

"That I can handle."

"Yeah," Rodney cracked a smile, "I guess you can... Major."

There should have been a stab of something upon hearing his rank used again, but John could only grin stupidly. "Exploring the galaxy, making you undergo probably ridiculous alien rituals for the good of the planet—I think I'm liking the sound of this job already."

"You're insufferable, you know that?"

"Yep."

"What did I just get myself into?"


"No, seriously, how did you get me to agree with this?" Rodney scratched at the SG-3 patch adorning his shoulder, letting the P-90 hang from its strap in just the way that John instructed him not to hold the gun. "This uniform itches. And why are we wearing green? I still haven't figured out the rotating schedule on the colors. Is there some sort of secret code that you military types whisper to each other when the scientists can't hear?"

"McKay." John rolled his eyes.

"What?"

"The gate's still open. You're wasting valuable electricity paid for by the taxpayers."

Rodney huffed an annoyed breath. "Thank you, Major, I can't see that for myself."

"Let's not keep Ford and Stackhouse waiting." John motioned to the two men on the ramp. "More than they already have been."

"I was working."

"We all are." Resisting the urge to physically drag the scientist up the ramp, John settled on readjusting the aviators resting on the bridge of his nose. According to the briefing, it was going to be quite bright on the other side of the gate. "Any time now."

"I think I left something on back in my lab—"

He nudged McKay in the ribs, interrupting the protest and indicated the shimmering wormhole. "The galaxy isn't going to explore itself."

Out of the corner of his eye, John could see Ford's stern Marine composure falter a bit as he bounced on his toes, clearly eager to start the mission. Stackhouse looked similarly enthused as he barely checked a grin. John simply arched a brow at Rodney. "Coming?"

"Fine, fine," Rodney grumbled as he trudged up the ramp, "someone has to keep you children from touching all of the shiny objects."

"That's why we bring you along, Goose."

"Damn it, I'm changing my call sign to Viper." Rodney pointed a finger at John as Ford took point, disappearing through the shimmering portal first. "I refuse to be named after a loud, honking, squawking avian—"

As John stepped through the event horizon, he couldn't help but grin. He had two feet firmly planted on the ground—but he was flying nonetheless.

The End